David Tennant as DI Alec Hardy and Olivia Coleman as DS Ellie Miller in Broadchurch. Photo: ITV
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It’s a miracle: the new Broadchurch avoided all the usual pitfalls of a sequel

It looks like the second series of ITV’s popular thriller is going to be far more interesting than we can usually expect from such a highly-anticipated follow-up.

Please note: spoilers for series one and two of Broadchurch

When I heard that there was going to be a second series of Broadchurch, my heart sank. Part of what made the first series of Chris Chibnall’s Dorset-based thriller such a success was its sense of containment – physically, in the form of the titular town’s isolated coastal location, and psychologically as its inhabitants found themselves trapped by their own history and connections. It was only after the horror had been revealed that the town could be linked with the rest of the world again, a reconnection that was given powerful visual representation in a final scene where a string of coastal beacons were lit in memory of the town’s murdered child. There wasn’t a sense of closure exactly, but a certain feeling of resolution. It was the end of a chapter.

Of course, it makes complete sense that ITV would want more episodes of the drama that made many viewers (including me) reappraise it as a potential purveyor of quality drama for the first time in about a decade. This is, after all, the channel that has kept commissioning Julian Fellowes to make episodes of Downton Abbey long after the characters, plot or dialogue ceased to make any sense whatsoever. But Broadchurch? A second series, and presumably a second major murder investigation in the same small town, would surely immediately peg the programme as “Midsomer Murders-on-Sea”, and destroy any possibility of recapturing the gripping tension that had been so successfully created in the first instalment.

Thankfully, Chibnall and his team seem, so far, to have resisted the easy options and avoided the glaring traps. The first episode of the second series, aired last night, moved us on in time but did not abandon the characters and plot we are familiar with. We rejoined the Latimer familiar and their neighbours at the pre-trial hearing of the man they (and we) believe murdered their son Danny. The grief is still raw and many characters seem still unsure of the full story that we, as viewers, were privy to.

The passing of time was slipped in everywhere. We saw Olivia Coleman’s character tell her therapist that she no longer fantasised about beating her husband (who we saw only in prison or in the dock) to death with a hammer quite as much. A romance seems to have developed between Arthur Darvill’s right-on vicar and the Australian hotel proprietor. The pregnancy that Danny’s mother discovered during the investigation is now nearly full term.

Not everything was quite so smoothly constructed, it’s true. The police don’t exhume bodies in broad daylight or in such a way that the family can march up and see it happening. It’s not particularly probable that a police officer could run an off-the-books witness protection programme for someone connected with a highly-publicised and controversial case without being discovered. But who wants probability from a thriller? Crucially, with this first episode, we’ve been reassured that Broadchurch isn’t about to become the Dorset branch of the CSI franchise – a repetitive procedural with a new corpse washing up on the beach every week. This town still has secrets to reveal.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Davide Restivo at Wikimedia Commons
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Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.